Hackng Autism Hackathon

AT&T Mobile App Hackathon – Autism Speaks (San Francisco)


Through the years I have implemented more and more technology into my therapy sessions, not as a solution, but as a bridge to reach set goals. To many students, this technology has been a conduit to varying degrees of independence.

I have used hundreds of apps some good and some good in theory only. Many of the latter ones are evidence based and use core principles of education, but lack one very important thing. The ability to engage the student, without the student’s interest anyone or anything, no matter how good, will be hard pressed to make any type of measurable progress.

I use many apps depending on the goals we’re working towards, social skills, communication skills etc. When you consistently work with apps you start to notice their strengths and their deficits. I find myself saying, “if only this app would take data, if only this app would give feedback, if only I could import images directly from Google and so on. I have compiled a list of “if only” The idea of the list is to one day use it to build an app that will have as many of the “if only” items on the list incorporated thus maximizing it’s potential to make a difference for the autism community.

When I found out that Autism Speaks was partnering with AT&T to sponsor an app hackathon in my backyard, San Francisco. I thought, what a great place to meet software engineers, designers and overall techies that get together to do some social good. A perfect opportunity to see one of the many apps I have in mind become reality.

With that in mind, I eagerly registered and confirmed two attendees, my husband and myself. Although my husband was unaware at this point that he was going, I was sure he would agree, this endeavor was well worth the effort. I failed to tell him, it was six to midnight the first day and ten in the morning to potentially midnight the next day. He didn’t ask, however.

We arrived at the Hattery and took a seat. It was a rather casual scene; plenty of food and energy drinks were served. It started promptly at 7, mind you, it was supposed to start at 6; it was only later that I found out, we were supposed to be mingling between 6-7, rookie mistakes.

Alex Donn from the AT&T Developer Program gave us the details of the event. Everyone present walked to the front and introduced themselves and said whether they were programmers, designers, marketing gurus, idea people (me) and so on.
Now it was time to make connections and build a team.

The "making Friends" Team

The “making Friends” Team

The first person we met was Gabriel Adauto, an iOS developer from “Motion Math”, wow; we were off to a great start. I pitched my app idea, and he was on board. Next, time to look for a designer. We pitched our idea to Rachel Blue; she was on board as well. As I was detailing the app idea to Rachel, a guy off to the left, Lance Vikaros, a game designer, listened in; he was interested and wanted to contribute. With that our team was formed, so we thought. A young man, full of energy, approached the group and inquired about the project. Come to find out, Jay Zalowitz was the last member of our team.

This being my first hackathon I was unsure of what t expect next. A seasoned team member explained the sequence of events; I was told that the hardest part was killing babies. What! Killing babies! We’ll come back to this term.

Yes, it's a flow chart

Yes, it’s a flow chart

The team gathered around a white board and created the flow of the app. Scenes, scripts and features were discussed. Due to the time constraints, some of my important app features had to be dropped. It was painfully hard to accept the fact; I had to choose which ones were dropped knowing that all were equally important. Hence the term “killing babies.”

It was approaching midnight so we agreed to continue work from home and communicate using Google+ Hangout. With work delegated, each team member got busy. For someone who can’t stay up past 10pm I was doing pretty good considering the clock was telling me it was half past two in the morning.

The next morning we all convened at the Hattery at 10am. Everyone was nose deep into their computers only coming up briefly for a bite to eat or ask for files they needed from other team members. I was busy working on the presentation due a 6pm. The app slowly came together. By 6pm the finishing touches were being implemented.


At six in evening, it was time to present. A total of twenty-seven teams were presenting their work. The apps presented that night were nothing short of amazing. Amazing because to produce an app from scratch to a presentable piece in one day is an incredible amount of work. All those energy drinks make sense now.

Our app “MakingAFriend” was a winner. We made the app’s code available as open source so that anyone could use or improve on it, our way of giving back to the community and doing our part in doing social good.

This past weekend I met an amazing group of people doing great things for a great cause, I am happy that I got the opportunity to be part of it. I look forward to doing it again.

Here are the app details:

Name of the app: MakingAFriend
Device intended for: iPad


Making Friend will give individuals the practice and confidence needed to meet new people and build relationships. Through “game-like” activity individuals can practice interpreting facial expression, body language, personal hygiene, self-regulation and social pragmatic skills of initiating and maintaining appropriate conversations. Earn confidence points while making new friends.

Designed to meet the needs of everyone with three levels of play and multiple language choices.

You can find the source code Here

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One thought on “Hackng Autism Hackathon

  1. Pingback: Autism Speaks Hackathon Inspires Groundbreaking New App | Autism News

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